By Mike Mahoney
Combining design and sustainability
Near the end of her senior year, textile design major Ellisha Alexina ’11 was totally frustrated with her thesis project. So she took a deep breath, and deliberately broke every rule she’d been taught. “And she produced some of the most beautiful fabric I’ve ever seen in my life,” said her professor, Charlotte Hamlin MFA ’98, coordinator for Graduate Studies at CVPA.
Since graduating, Alexina has turned the technique she invented that night into a thriving fabric business, supplying high-end, handcrafted fabrics to showrooms all over the country. Alexina is working on her third collection in her western Massachusetts studio. It will explore the theme of texture, using more of her “fiber side.” She designed and built her studio with a little help from friends and family, and with an eye toward sustainability as well as functionality.
She uses only water-based inks to produce her hand-mixed colors, and uses a cleaning system that turns tap water into what she considers the best cleanser available. “It’s called an Alkaline Cleaning system. It alters the pH of water, turning normal water into the most effective cleanser on the market. Normally, cleansers used in textiles are quite toxic, and you have to use gloves and goggles, and it smells awful. Now, I can literally drink the cleanser. It really is just water.”
Confident in her abilities
Alexina’s enthusiasm for her craft is palpable, and she exudes the quiet confidence of someone completely at home with their abilities. “I get the same reaction whenever I show my fabrics,” she said. “It’s ‘Oh my God, that’s so gorgeous; how do you do that?’” Her process involves hand painting right onto the silkscreen, so that while the pattern repeats, the coloration does not. It means that nearly every yard of fabric is different. “I used to guard the ‘secret’ closely, but it turns out that it is a skill I possess; it isn’t just a process.”
Alexina’s technique produces fabric so unique, so impressive, that when she showed her college portfolio to world-renowned fabric designer Peter Fasano at a job interview, he refused to hire her—instead he insisted that she start her own company.
“Peter took me under his wing, introduced me to the right people, and was instrumental in getting my business off on the right foot,” she explained.
“But I’ve always believed that you create your own success. I knew I was going to make it on my own when I cold-called the biggest showroom in New York City. They fell in love with my work, and signed me up. That told me the fabrics were speaking for themselves; it wasn’t just Peter’s connections.”
Learning her craft at UMassD
Her collections are available in seven showrooms across the country, which is “a very big deal,” said Hamlin. “Establishing your own business so soon after graduation is rare; having your fabrics featured in seven showrooms is unheard of, and she is far from done growing. But it’s hardly surprising; she was the consummate textile design student. Refined. Meticulous. She did everything well and thoughtfully.”
Alexina said, “My time at UMass Dartmouth was great. They not only taught me how to do my craft—how to screen print—but I learned there’s an actual history to fabrics. So when I reference an 18th-century Ottoman design in my work, because of its history, it makes the design relatable—familiar and comfortable. It is successful to the eye.”
What’s next? “I will be launching an e-commerce site soon, so people can purchase my fabrics online. I don’t see manufacturing in my future—I’ve always had the desire to work with my hands; I’m a fan of the process. I like to start and finish everything I do.”